Puerto Princesa Underground River Part 3: Hidden Wonders of St. Paul Cave

“There’s nothing to see in the Underground River. It’s just rocks and darkness. BORING” – This is what I said before me and My Beloved Wife Lei went to Puerto Princesa.

So instead of booking a tour to the world famous underground river, I decided to get the Honda Bay tour. Going to the islands was fun but I realized that our Puerto Princesa trip will be incomplete if we never go to the Underground River.

Welcome to Puerto Princesa Underground River
Welcome to Puerto Princesa Underground River! (Note: that's not me)

Fortunately, we found a tour agency that helped us book a tour to the Underground River. They helped us get the entry permits and arranged our land travel to Sabang Wharf, then boat trip to the underground river, and even the buffet lunch. They got everything covered.

 After three-and-a-half hours of travelling and waiting, we finally reached the beach of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

Landing at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River national Park

We were amazed by the clear seas and cliffs, which is a fine example of karst topography.

Karst rock formation near the Puerto Princesa Underground Cave

I read that Palawan was not originally part of the Philippine archipelago. About 30 million years ago, the island (together with Calamianes Group and Mindoro) is still part of the Eurasian Continental Plate (this is the land mass of mainland Asia and Europe). It just drifted away from the mainland and collided with the Philippine Mobile Belt 15 million years ago. That collision uplifted Palawan into its current form.1

Tectonic Movement of Palawan Island
Tectonic movement of Palawan Island.2

The uplifted limestone mountains of Palawan, which includes Mount St. Paul, were eroded and its rocks dissolved by rainwater and rivers forming the amazing karst topography that we see today.

These scientific data about Puerto Princesa Underground River blew my mind. The beauty that we admire today took millions of years to form.

A Walk through the Forest Trail

The entrance to the Underground River is at the foot of Mount St. Paul Range. The mountain is still wooded and located in the remote area of Palawan. That’s why we had to pass through the forest just to reach the entrance.

Forest trail to Puerto Princesa Underground River

Our journey through the forest was not scary because there’s a cleared path between the trees.

Our tour guide warned us about the monkeys in the National Park. She said that the monkeys are no longer scared of humans. These monkeys are attracted to the sound of plastic bags because they associate it with food.

I was not daunted with those warnings so when I saw a monkey I took a close up shot...

Monkey thief at Puerto Princesa Underground River

...which elicited an angry response. The monkey tried to steal my camera. Vicious sneaky animal! Good thing that it didn’t succeed. So, since that incident, I made sure to hold our bags tightly. Other park visitors were unfortunate because the monkeys stole their things.

This behavioural change for the monkey population in the National Park worried the environmentalists. The government even considered a closed season for the park to lessen the tourism’s impact to the environment.

After a short walk through the forest, we finally saw it: the entrance to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The Puerto Princesa Underground River flows out of the St. Paul Cave. The cave and the river go together because it is the river that created the cave for thousands of years.

The place is beautiful. The water is of blue-green tint. It’s no wonder that the early inhabitants of Palawan considered the underground river as the home of the spirits. They didn’t enter the cave out of respect (or fear) to the diwatas.

We had to wait for our turn to ride the paddle boat to the Underground River. The waiting area is filled with tourists while the monkeys prowled around.

Waiting for our turn to enter St. Paul Cave

Good thing that trees shaded us from the sun. Lei took the opportunity to take her selfie while I roamed around the place.

I discovered that the underground river is connected to the sea.

Puerto Princesa Underground River water to West Philippine Sea

Finally! Our Journey Inside the St. Paul Cave

The Puerto Princesa Underground River flows throughout the length of the St. Paul Cave, which is located under Mt. St. Paul. According to our tour guide, Mount St. Paul was so named because it looked like London’s St. Paul Cathedral.

Diagram of St. Paul Cave
Diagram of St. Paul Cave.1

About 21 kilometers of the cave was explored. The diagram above shows that the cave almost covered the whole length of Mount St. Paul. Of course, there are still unexplored areas in the cave.

A little Google search revealed that the cave is well visited by foreign scientists. The first documented exploration was done by Balasz in 1973; then by Australians in 1980, Americans in 1982, and Italians in 1989.3 The latest exploration was done by Italians in 2011 which yielded the discovery of 20 million years old fossil of a sea cow.4

Our turn to ride the paddle boat came after 30 minutes of waiting. We finally met our boatman/cave guide:

Our boatman for the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour

I forgot his name but he told me that he once lived in Metro Manila. He returned to Palawan when he got tired of the city life.

Watch the video of our entry to St. Paul Cave:

 We were awed the moment we entered the cave. It was awesome that the stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and all other rock formations inside the cave took hundreds of years to form.

Inside St. Paul Cave
Inside Puerto Princesa Underground River

Our boatman knew that we were so awed by what we’re seeing that he warned us to never open our mouth very wide because we could catch either the cold cave water or the hot bat shit. What he said is funny but is also true. Up the cave’s ceiling we saw hundreds (or even thousands) of bats staring down at us.

Bats inside Puerto Princesa Underground River
The "black dots" on the white cave wall are bats.

I bet that they are so annoyed with us humans for always interrupting their sleep. Well, at least they didn’t pelt us with their poop.

Aside from telling jokes, our boatman said tidbits of history and scientific information. He told us that stalactites and stalagmites were form by dripping cave waters that contain dissolved minerals. Columns, on the other hand, form when the stalactites and stalagmites finally joined as one.

He showed us one rock formation that is about to become a column hundreds of years from now:

Future column of St. Paul Cave

Looking at the rock formations is like looking at the clouds in the sky. You need to unleash your imagination to enjoy the journey. Our boatman is good in imagining things and he brought us to the vegetable section, cathedral, the face of Jesus, the image Nativity scene, and many more.

Here are some of the things that we saw inside the cave:

Rock formations in St. Paul Cave
Boating on Puerto Princesa Underground River

I noticed that there were black crosses painted on the cave wall. I wonder if they have mysterious meaning.

Crosses on the wall of St. Paul Cave

Another interesting writing on the cave wall was written in 1937. I was not able to read the whole name but I saw LT. which may mean lieutenant. If my guess is right then that person would be an American military officer who was a member of the team who mapped Palawan in 1937.5

Wrtings on the wall of Puerto Princesa Underground River dated 1937

Our boatman told us that some cavers discovered an exit to the St. Paul Cave other than the one that we previously entered. Too bad that our tour will not bring us to that new exit.

Visitors of St. Paul Cave

Our journey through the cave passed too quickly that we thought we spent an hour or more in the darkness. The truth is that our tour lasted around 30 minutes.

Exit of St. Paul Cave
Light! I see light. We're saved!

I felt happy when I saw the light at the end of our journey. St. Paul Cave may have awesome things hidden in the dark but it doesn’t beat the beauty of the sun. We read this important reminder before we left the dock:

Important reminder for Puerto Princesa Underground River visitors

I heartily agree with what’s written on that sign. Giving tips to the boatman is a good sign of appreciation. Since our boatman/cave guide gave an excellent service, we didn’t hesitate to give him a tip.

That ended our journey inside St. Paul Cave and our Puerto Princesa Underground River adventure. All the time that we spent travelling and waiting were well spent because Puerto Princesa Underground River is truly beautiful and world-class. It truly deserves its place in the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Regards to my first comment that “there’s nothing to see in the Underground Cave”? Well, I admit that I was wrong.


Read more of our adventures in Puerto Princesa, Palawan:

First Night in Puerto Princesa: Dinner Date at Haim Chicken Inato
Our Overnight Stay in Balay Inato, Puerto Princesa
Honda Bay Tour (Part 1): A Big Disappointment at Starfish Island
Honda Bay Tour (Part 2): Killing Time at Luli Island
Honda Bay Tour (Part 3): Finale in Cowrie Island
Second Night in Puerto Princesa: Sisig Night at Kinabuch’s
Marianne Home Inn: Our “Home” in Palawan
How We Obtained the Permit to Enter the Puerto Princesa Underground River
Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 1: Playing the Waiting Game at Sabang Wharf
Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 2: Our Boat Ride to the Underground River


Some information included in this post came from these sources:

1. St. Paul Limestone Formation National Geological Monument located in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

2. An Ancient Origin for Enigmatic Flat-Headed Frogs (Bombinatoridae: Barbourula) from the Islands of Southeast Asia by David Blackburn, et al. Posted on Kansas University Natural History Museum website.

3. Recent Explorations in the Saint Paul Karst (Palawan, Philippines) by Antonio de Vivo et al. posted on Laventa website

4. Extinct Sea Cow Fossil Found in the Philippines from Phys.Org

5. Bibliographic Information on Palawan Nautical Chart posted on Stanford University Libraries website

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1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful place, nature's awesome wonder! Not too sure if the boat can take me or not though! LOL!!!


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